Libyan embassy suspends work in Cairo after protest

CAIRO Sat Mar 16, 2013 3:24pm EDT

An Egyptian Coptic Church that was set on fire is seen in Benghazi March 14, 2013. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori

An Egyptian Coptic Church that was set on fire is seen in Benghazi March 14, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Esam Al-Fetori

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CAIRO (Reuters) - The Libyan embassy in Cairo on Saturday suspended work for security reasons, days after Egyptians protested in front of the building over the death of an Egyptian Copt in Libya.

Tensions between the North African neighbors have risen after attacks on Egyptian Coptic targets in Libya and the burning of the Libyan flag by protesters in front of the embassy in Cairo this week.

"The embassy suspended all its consular and citizen services because (our) Coptic brothers demonstrated," embassy media adviser Abdul Hamid al-Safi told Reuters, saying such protests could lead to problems between demonstrators and Libyans. He said the embassy would halt work until the situation calmed.

On Thursday unknown assailants set an Egyptian Coptic church in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi ablaze, the second attack on the building in weeks. Gunmen had previously attacked it, assaulting two priests.

Residents said the attack appeared to be in reaction to the demonstration at the Libyan embassy, where apart from burning a flag, Egyptian protesters also held aloft a cross, according to police at the scene.

The demonstrators were protesting against the death of an Egyptian Copt in an explosion in front of a church in Libya a month ago.

Libya's small Christian community has expressed fears over Islamist extremism and the government is struggling to impose its authority over armed groups which have refused to lay down their weapons since the 2011 war that toppled Muammar Gaddafi.

In December, an explosion at a building belonging to a Coptic church in Dafniya, close to the western city of Misrata, killed two Egyptian men and wounded two others.

(Reporting by Ayman Samir; Writing by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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